Scenes from Spring Training: A day with the Twins, Part 2

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Tom Kelly and Mark McGwire.jpg

“I’m tellin’ ya, Mac. If you simply do what I did and say boring things all the time, those pesky reporters would leave ya alone. Now, what say you and me go beat up Gardenhire so I can get my team back?”

I may have gotten that quote wrong. Can’t find my notes. A pity, really.

After the Nathan news I decided to just walk around and see what I could see. As evidenced by the above pic, Tom Kelly talking to Mark McGwire is one of the first things I saw.  Nothing particularly interesting was exchanged, but it seemed like a good photo to take.

The Cardinals took batting practice right after that, with Big Mac standing behind the cage, just a couple of feet in front of me.  I studied the subject for a while. He seemed to talk like a normal person, giving some instruction to the batter in the cage. He sneezed once, which suggests even more human traits. At one point he checked his watch, which suggests that he’s concerned of matters temporal, while most monsters tend not to be.  It was almost enough to make me think that everything I’ve been reading about the man was wrong.  I risked speaking to him:

“Hey Mac, what are the biggest differences between spring training as a player and spring training as a coach in terms of routines, preparation, things like that,” I asked.

“Well,” McGwire started, not taking his eyes off the hitters, “the biggest thing is I don’t have to do it.”

Do it?  What could he mean? Shoot steroids?!  Freebase the bone marrow of infants?!

“Train. A lot less physical stuff, that’s for sure.” McGwire chuckled.

After that, the guy hitting fungoes asked La Russa — who was standing nearby — if he’d hit them for a while. La Russa said he had to do something else so the other guy kept hitting.  I asked McGwire why they don’t ask him to do it.  He said “the guys say I hit ’em too hard.”

It was at that moment that I decided that Mark McGwire is just a plain old hitting coach. Just as I couldn’t think of anything particularly interesting to ask, say, Howard Johnson or Don Baylor, I can’t think of much interesting I’d ask Mark McGwire.  Nor do I think he’d say anything all that interesting even if I could think of a good question.  McGwire was an interesting diversion for a couple of cold, news-barren months.  Now he’s just a coach. No more, no less.

I left the field and made a slow walk to the press box.  I passed a brick wall with the National Professional Scouts Hall of Fame on it.  It wasn’t the most impressive Hall of Fame I’ve ever seen, but I’m sure the enshrinees’ mothers are proud. All four of them.

Back upstairs I sat down and watched the grounds crew clean up the divots and detritus of a morning’s worth of BP and infield practice and prepare the field for the ballgame.  If there’s anything more aesthetically satisfying than watching fresh chalk lines get laid down, I’m not sure what it is.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
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On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”